Wearing a T-shirt labeled "YouthBuild" and wielding a green-paint-covered roller, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis visited Los Angeles on Monday to kick off United We Serve, President Obama's summer service initiative to create change in U.S. communities through long-term volunteer involvement, creating jobs along the way.
"Our hope is our future, and volunteerism is one way of giving back . . . giving hope to youngsters who otherwise couldn't have opportunities, giving them a second chance, a career path," Solis said.
Solis spoke after touring La Causa, a Labor Department YouthBuild program facility that provides job training and education for at-risk youth ages 16 to 24 while building or rehabilitating affordable housing for low-income or homeless families.
That's where the paint came in: YouthBuild pressed Solis into service painting one of the homes for a few minutes.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Cabinet secretaries fanned out across the country Monday to participate in community service projects as part of the launch of United We Serve, which runs through a new National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11.
President Obama is urging people to help in the nation's economic recovery by volunteering at schools and hospitals and pitching in on community projects such as tutoring and trash pickup.
Robert Zardeneta, executive director of La Causa, said that community service programs provide a lifeline through training and career development at a time when jobs keep disappearing in the Golden State. In May, California's unemployment rate rose to a record 11.5%.
"We are promoting college to young people . . . and 16 of our students will be Bruins next [academic] year," Zardeneta said.
Students are paid to attend La Causa classes and for their construction work. La Causa spruces up houses of low-income residents using environmentally friendly materials.
"We go to homes and teach families in the community how we can be energy efficient. And we are able to save these homeowners between $20 and $30 per month by being energy efficient," Zardeneta said.
This year, La Causa has painted six houses and aims to reach 22 houses this summer. Solis said the group would receive a Labor Department grant of $687,500 this fiscal year and $1.1 million next year, pending authorization of that budget. The money is mainly earmarked for training and construction wages.